Read by Jana
With the voices of Tom Farrance and Bertie
Adapted by Bertie for Storynory
Om chants by Jana
Image by Adobe Stock
Hello, this is Jana, and I’d like to wish you a very happy Diwali, which in case you don’t know is the Hindu festival of light. It celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil. Diwali is celebrated all over the world. Jains and Sikhs also have their own celebrations of good over the dark forces of evil. It’s a brilliant time celebrated with lamps, fireworks, sweets, and stories. And for Diwali this autumn, we are starting our version of the Indian epic, the Ramayana, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil. We will feature the voices Tom Farrance and Bertie.
Chapter 1 : The gods have a problem
Deep in a dark forest of India a holy man was hovering slightly off the ground, just above the carpet of leaves.
This wise man, known in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit as a “rishi”, had once been a king, wealthy and powerful. In old age he went without food, company, and sleep. After depriving his body and focusing his mind for many years, he had achieved the power of levitation, and as he sat deep in a trance, his body rose into the air.
He was not without an audience.
Agni, the bright god of the flames, flickered and danced before him. The eyes of animals and birds glinted like stars among the trees as they watched him perform the miracle of mind over matter.
His low chant carried throughout the wood:
May all parts of my body including those of speech, life, vision, hearing become strong by being close to Brahman.
Let there be Peace in me ! Let there be Peace Around Me!
peace be to the world, peace to the world, peace to the world.
The mantra was pleasing to the divine ears of the gods, and brought harmony to the world.
But the chanting sage annoyed some of his neighbours in the forest. His endlessly repeating voice did nothing to sooth them. In fact, it grated on their nerves.
These enemies of harmony were demons, known in Sanskrit as rakshasas. One was Tataka, a princess reborn as a winged monster. She had the face of a woman, but her body was feathered, and her hands and feet were clawed. She was determined to hinder the holy man, and she summoned her sons Maricha and Subahu to help her out with her tricks. The trio of demons flew at the floating sage, screeching in his face, and chucking dirt and blood at his body.
Tataka, terrible though she was, would not have dared insult the holy man and the gods, without a powerful protector. She felt safe to misbehave because she served Ravana, the king of the rakshasas, who at that time had gained great power.
King Ravana was terrible to look at. He had ten heads, twenty hands, and a chest as broad as a mountain. From his island kingdom of Lanka, he sent out agents of disruption and destruction. His aim was to stamp out holiness and harmony. Disharmony was his delight. The clashing clamour of conflict was his music.
Long ago, he had pretended to be a saint. He went without food and finery. Brahma, the grandfather of the gods, was pleased and offered him a reward. Ravana asked to be made invulnerable, so that no god nor demon could kill him. Brahma granted him this boon. But as soon as he gained great power, Ravana revealed his evil side and brought chaos into the world. Then it was too late. No god could stand in his way.
As you might imagine, the gods were unhappy with this state of affairs.
In heaven, they held a council of complaint. Indra, king of skies and weather, took the lead in speaking out:
“Lord Brahma, you have created a heavy problem for us, even though you did not mean to. Wherever sages do us honour, Ravana, the arrogant king of Lanka, sends his fiends to frustrate them. There is nothing we can do, because you made him invulnerable to our power.”
The grandfather of the gods shook his hair, as white as a swan, and replied:
“Indra, I hear what you say. Yes, it is true that Ravana is the most powerful Rakshasa that the universe has seen. Yes, it is true that in his presence, the sun is afraid to shine, the winds are terrified to blow, and the sea dares not show a ripple on her face. But listen to this. I left a chink in his armour. A being so powerful was too arrogant to seek protection from mere humans. This is what we must do. We must send a man to kill him.”
This reply greatly surprised Indra whose whole body flashed with lightning as he thundered back. “Pah! If we sent an army of one million puny humans against Ravana, he would just laugh! He would uproot a mountain and hurl it at their heads!”
While these gods were in uproar, divine Vishnu, his sky-blue skin wrapped in his blazing saffron robe, rode up to the council on his eagle, looking like the sun upon a cloud. The council quietened, because the gods wanted to hear what he had to say.
“Oh Brahma, our revered grandfather, you seek a human to destroy the evil Ravana. Permit me to be born to a human mother, and I will complete this deed of destiny.”
Grandfather Brahma was pleased with this positive response, but he cautioned as follows, “Lord Vishnu, your power is too great for one human woman’s body to bear. Let your spirit be divided among three mothers. I know how you must achieve this. In the blessed Kingdom of Ayodhya, the virtuous King Dashratha has three wives, and as yet not a single son. Allow yourself to be born to all three wives, but not in equal parts, and then when the time is right, you may bring peace to the three worlds by defeating the evil Rakshasa king.”
“It shall be so!” replied shining Lord Vishnu. The council was in agreement, and the divine plan was set into action. So now, let us turn to the human world, where the action of our story will take place.
There was once a city called Ayodhya. She was as beautiful as a bride on her wedding day. A wide moat and tall walls protected her from enemies. All around her grew gardens and orchards. Her streets were broad and straight. Even the houses of the ordinary people were well built and comfortable. The water tasted as sweet as the juice of sugarcane. The rice was scented with saffron.
Flowers fall like soft rain from the sky
Rivers run like children through the park
Maidens move like moonbeams in the eye,
Rubies burn like fireflies in the dark,
The wildest weather is but a gentle breeze
Monkeys sing like songbirds in the trees
This lovely city was ruled by King Dashratha, who was wise, just and dedicated to holy law, known as dharma. He was loved by his family, and by all the people of Ayodhya.
This blessed king had but one sorrow. None of his three wives had borne him a son. He consulted the wisest sages about what to do to resolve this problem. After listening to what they had to say, he decided upon a sacred rite known as a yanga, in which a horse is sacrificed to the gods.
The day of the Yanga was set in the calendar.
Dashratha invited kings,holymen and nobles from all over the world to witness the ceremony. For weeks, the workers of Ayodhya built pavilions, stables, and houses to accommodate the visitors. The pillars were festooned with wonderful carvings, the walls draped in tapestries, and the floors covered with fine carpets.
All were supplied with food and drink, and entertained with music and dancing. Day after day, the Priests performed sacred rites.
Then came the day of the ceremony.
Kausalia was the king’s first and most revered wife. The high priest ruled that she must perform the sacrifice. So the queen wielded the sword and struck the horse with three blows.
Later that evening, when the king was alone in the temple, he stood before a sacred fire and roasted some of the horse meat for the gods to savour its sweet smell and taste.
The flames danced
While the wise king tranced
Until a fiery figure before him appeared
Robed in red, with flaming head,
With glowing skin, and lion-like beard
His radiant sun-like face
was clearly not of the human race.
His arms held out a golden cup
Filled with the food on which the gods themselves sup.
Then he spoke in a voice as deep as a battle drum.
Good king Dashratha from the gods I come
This food I bring feeds the heavenly beings
You must give it to your lovely queens
And of this one instruction be aware
Queen Kausalia must drink the greater share
Soon your wives will bear the sons you crave
This is the gift that Lord Brahma gave
King Dashratha reached out and took the golden cup from the flickering figure of the flames.
He did exactly as he was told, feeding the divine food to his wives, spooning it into their mouths, and he gave the largest part to Queen Kausalya, his first and most revered wife.
When he had finished feeding the divine food to his wives, he was happier than a poor man who has suddenly come into money!
Nine months later four sons were born to him.
Queen Kausalya gave birth to Rama. Never had the world seen such a beautiful human being. His face was like the moon on an unclouded night. As he grew into a boy, his talents shone like stars.
He could shoot the keenest arrow. He could ride the fastests elephant. It was his joy to perform his father’s will. Above all, he was wise, just, and steeped in Dharma.
Queen Sumitra bore two sons. Lakshmana was devoted to his half brother Rama and followed him like his shadow. Shatrughna was his twin, also just and brave.
And the youngest queen, Kaikeyi, the favourite of King Dashratha, gave birth to the worthy Bharata.
When the boys reached the age of 13, a sage came from the forests to speak to King Dashratha. His name was Vishvamitra, known as one of the holiest of men who had ever lived.
King Dashratha, honoured by a visit from such a famous holy man, knelt down and touched his feet.
Wise sage. We are truly honoured by your visit. Name any request, and I shall grant it.
I do have a request, but before I ask it of you, let me explain my situation. It is highly unusual for me to come to the city and your magnificent palace. Normally, I live alone in the woods. My sole purpose is to perform sacred rites that please the gods and bring harmony to the universe. I have lived like this for many years. But nowadays, as I perform my mantra, I am harases by rakshasas that fly at my head and fling dirt and blood at me. My request is this. Lend me Rama, your oldest son, that he may fight and defeat these evil fiends.
Ask for anything but not this. My lotus-eyed child is not old enough for war. Let him stay at home and play with his toys. I shall send an army of 10,000 men to slay those noxious demons.
Did you lie when you said you would grant me any favour I asked?
I did not lie, but Rama is my favourite son. I cannot allow you to take the apple of my eye.
You have stored up worth and virtue all your long life, now with this deception you throw it all away.
Please I beg of you, show mercy.
Why are you afraid? Do you not know that I will not allow harm to come to Rama? I will instruct him in the use of celestial weapons, the very same used by the gods. And then I shall school him in secret mantras to protect his body.
The king almost fainted with grief at the thought of losing his son.However, he consulted his priests and holymen, and they advised him not to deny Vishvamitra his request. And so finally, he summoned Rama and his brother Lakshmana, and gave them instructions to leave for the forest with Vishvamitra, and to obey his every instruction.
The great sage set out on the road, followed by the two boys with their bows in their hands. They looked like a three headed cobra as they marched together, in time to the drum beat of the gods on high.
When they had gone a few miles, they came to the meeting point of two great rivers. Vishvamitra spoke softly to Lotus-eyed Rama.
“Dear boy, stop for a while and drink from the waters. And while we are resting, I shall give you two mantras, Bala and Atibala. When you have mastered these mantras, you shall have no equal for beauty, strength, skill or wisdom. You will never feel tired. For Bala and Atibala are the mothers of all wisdom.”
Then Rama purified himself by drinking the water, and learned the spells from Vishvamitra who had discovered them through many years of contemplation.They chanted the mantras together.
This time Tom and Jana together, we might record separately though
When he had received these mantras, Rama shone like the sun.
The next day, after performing their morning prayers and rituals, they crossed the river in a boat. Eventually, they reached the edge of a dark forest.
Rama turned to the great sage and asked:
“What is this forbidding forest? It is filled with the strange screeching sounds, and the cries of wild beasts, tigers, bears, and wolves.”
And Vishamitra replied by relating the story of the Rakshasa who roamed the forest. Her name was Tataka. Her father had been king of the water spirits. She grew up to be tall and beautiful, with the strength of 100 elephants. She married a good man, and had two sons. After her husband died, she fell in love with a wise rishi called Agastya, but he would have nothing to do with her. His rejection drove her mad, and she began to taunt and disturb the rishi every time he went into deep meditation, so that he could not carry out his rituals. In a fit of anger, Agastya cursed Tataka and her sons, turning them into man-eating Rakshasas.
Vishvamitra ended the story by saying, “And now the only man alive who is strong enough to kill this Tataka, is you, Rama.”
“But Great One, how can I kill a woman?” asked Rama.
“Have no mercy, even though she is a woman, because her heart is evil and she possesses great strength. Think only of this: Her death will bring greater harmony to the world.”
And Rama replied: “In Ayodhya, my father told me to follow all your commands without hesitation. I shall do as you say, out of respect for my father’s words, and for you, who are wise and holy.”
After this, the sage and the two boys continued into the forest until they came to a clearing where Vishvamitra told Rama that he must make a sound to attract Tataka, the evil Rakshasa. Rama twanged the string of his bow, making a humming sound that resounded through the trees, and soon Tataka appeared. Her face was hideous with rage, and she was dancing, hissing, spitting and flapping her feathered arms.
“Lakshmana, have you ever seen such an evil being?” said Rama to his brother, “But horrid as she is, I do not want to kill her, as she is a woman. See, I shall shoot off her ears and the tip of her nose to send her back where she came from.”
But as he spoke, Tataka began to hurl a shower of stones at the two brothers. This roused Rama’s anger, and he lifted his bow to take aim.
Tataka charged him, her heels kicking up a cloud of dark dust, her lungs letting out a piercing cry. Rama loosened his arrow at her. It struck her in the chest, and in that instant, she dropped to the ground. The sound of her dreadful voice ceased, and the forest fell silent.
The gods looked down from heaven and saw Tataka lying lifeless on the ground. Then they rejoiced, and Vishvamitra kissed Rama on the head saying, “Bless you, tiger among men, I am pleased with you.”
That evening Vishvamitra gave Rama a magnificent reward for his valour.
He presented him with weapons that are normally wielded by gods and demons.
He gave him shining swords, lances and maces
and magical projectiles including discuses and spears.
And with these arms, Rama was the greatest soldier on earth.
The following day, they continued their journey, until they came to a lovely place filled with deer and sweet singing birds, known as the Ashram of the Perfected Being. Here the great sage went into a deep state of meditation, while the two princes stood guard over the Ashram for six days and nights without sleep. At the end of the sixth night, the sky was filled with a terrible screeching sound. The sons of Tataka, Maricha and Subahu, came hurtling out of the sky, shooting blood at the princes. When this happened, Rama turned to his brother saying, “Now I shall scatter these evil, flesh-eating Rakshasas like the wind scatters clouds in the sky.”
And then he fired a holy weapon into the breast of Maricha, who dropped to the ground, still writhing and yet alive.
“See he is not dead yet,” said Rama, who then chose a yet more powerful weapon to finish him off. Tataka’s other son, Subahu, was now more enraged than ever, but Rama fired at him, and his body whirled around and was flung into the sea some 800 miles away.
Then a dark cloud of yet more Rakshasas flew in for the attack. The noble princes Rama and Laksmana fought them off until all the evil demons were dead.
When Vishvamitra finished his holy rituals, he learned of what Rama and his brother had accomplished, and was delighted. He told them:
“You have followed your father’s orders and completed your task. Now this Ashram is truly perfected. Tomorrow I shall head off on a journey to visit King Janaka in the Himalayan Mountains. He possesses a divine bow. Any prince who can string and fire the bow shall win the hand in marriage of his daughter, Princess Sita. Will you accompany me on this journey, and try your luck with this bow?”
And of course, the two boys agreed to accompany the wise rishi.
And that was the first part of our version of the Ramayana. It was adapted by Bertie and featured the voices of Tom Farrance and Bertie.
The original was written in ancient Sanskrit, and you might be interested in knowing a smattering of Sanskrit words - for example, a wiseman in Sanskrit, is a Rishi. Perhaps you will have heard, Britain’s new Prime Minister is called Rishi Sunak - his first name means a sage or a wiseman
A related word is a Guru, who is a teacher.
And as you heard in the story, a Rakshasa is a demon or monster
And before I go I’d just like to give a special shout out to Storynory’s listener
Charlotte Grace from Cornwall who recently turned 8 yrs old
And to all our listeners you can support us on Patreon or via PayPal, just go to Storynory.com to find the links.
And if you like stories of a Spiritual Nature, we are starting a new podcast, called Relaxivity. It’s a little more grown up than storynory, and ideal for adults and teenages. That’s Relaxivity, in all good podcast apps, or on the web at relaxivity.app.
Some common indian names have ancient meanings
Rani - a Queen
Rishi - a Sage or wiseman
Brahman is grandfather of the gods
Indra, often seen riding a white elephant, is god of the skies and weather
A Guru is a teacher
A mantra is a holy chant used in meditation
Rakshasa is a demon or monster
Austerities are when a holy person deprives themselves of comforts, sleep and foo